BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Brunswick County School officials are accusing the founder of Leland's Charter Day School of improper behavior to benefit his own finances.
Superintendent Edward Pruden has sent the State Board of Education a stack of letters, asking them to stop Charter Day School's founder Baker Mitchell from opening yet another charter school. Dr. Pruden also asked the state to look into allegations that Charter Day School is under investigation by the federal government, and the SBI.
It's not the first time someone has raised concerns about Mitchell profiting heavily from the public education system, and using his influence as a member of the state's Charter School Advisory Board to benefit his own charter schools. Now, Pruden is upset about Mitchell's efforts to lobby fellow board members to approve South Brunswick Charter School.
"The incestuous relationships that currently exist, even if they are legal, are not right. And probably were unintended, but when you have the opportunity to make millions of dollars running schools at the public expense, an awful lot of entrepreneurs are going to jump in there and see how they can do," Pruden said.
In his letters, Dr. Pruden relays allegations that Mitchell's Charter Day School is under investigation by the SBI and US Department of Education for improperly recruiting students to inflate enrollment numbers and state funding. The SBI tells us they have no such investigation.
"I wonder if Pruden's gone off his meds," Mitchell responded when we asked him about allegations of an investigation. "We have a waiting list of over 200 students. Why would we be seeking home school or even private school students? We've got more than we can handle as it is."
When we asked Pruden to elaborate on claims of an investigation outlined in his letters, that we have been unable to independently verify, he declined. "I really don't want to discuss allegations that are unproven. So I will leave that to the SBI, and the investigative wing of the US Department of Education."
The Department of Education has a policy that they will not confirm or deny investigations until they are complete, but Mitchell tells us he has no knowledge of any investigation by anyone.
Pruden also expressed concerns about trouble getting public records from Charter Day School, and the lack of transparency the law requires for how charter schools spend their money.
Pruden has been trying to get records that would indicate the level of community interest in adding an additional charter school in Brunswick County, saying that he thinks Charter Day School has overstated the level of interest in their efforts to get a new charter approved.
Mitchell's newest charter school, Douglass Academy in Wilmington, only has a 35 students, which is below the statutory minimum requirement of 65 students. Mitchell says this was their first year in operation, and confusion about the school's location hurt recruitment efforts this school year. But he says all 35 students have signed up to return next year, and they are confident they can get their numbers up to meet the state requirements.
The State Board of Education sent a one page letter of response to Dr. Pruden's letters, asking that he try to resolve this on the local level. They also dismissed his concerns about Mitchell's conflicts of interest, saying that he had been lawfully appointed to the Charter School Advisory Board.